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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Dark Suns

Grave Human Genuine

Review by Gary Hill

Those who want to avoid metal in their prog will probably treat this one like the plague. They’ll be missing out of course. Mind you, if they slip on the CD and listen only to the first couple tunes, they’ll probably be convinced this is a pure metal album. Those two songs have a lot of metallic textures and sounds to them. They could be called metal, although I still think there is plenty of prog in the midst of them. If you make your way past those cuts, though, you get to the real progressive rock meat and potatoes. There are still metallic elements to be found, but you’ll also hear some great prog rock. This is a stunning CD and will probably make my list of best albums of the year.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Stampede
This rises up gradually with ambient tones holding it for a while. Then we get a spoken word bit over the top of that. The group pound out from there into a killer jam that feels like Rush turned more metallic. More melodic, prog-like elements emerge over the top here and there. They shift this out to slightly more melodic excursion and it feels a lot like Dream Theater. It drops way down to ambience and then keyboards threaten to bring the next melody. It is never really manifested, though. Instead these tentative keyboard elements along with more textural motifs make up the rest of the track.
Flies in Amber
As this one comes in it’s super heavy in terms of the central structure. Yet, flute weaves over the top of this motif, bringing an almost King Crimson-like structure. Death growls come in and yet the prog rock elements remain with those flute lines. Around  a minute and fifteen or so it drops way down to just percussion with world music sounds to accompany it. The vocals enter gently over this as the song builds gradually and organically. Metal returns later and the death vocals compete with the melodic ones. After a while they shift it out with a mellower, more melodic motif. We get more world music later in the piece and then this is energized with an infusion of rock, not metal, textures. They move into a more metallic section that has hints of Dream Theater in the midst. Death growls are the vocals on this section. This gives way to a more melodic musical journey where both types of vocals are heard. This becomes quite dramatic and powerful as it moves forward. Eventually it shifts out to a more pure prog approach and the vocals become almost Fish-like. A final metallic pounding (still laced with lots of prog factors) leads to a reprise of the world music sounds as the closing motif.

Thornchild
Gentle, rather psychedelic motifs serve to start this off. They work through the first verse in this motif and then pound out into more metallic territory, still with plenty of prog in the mix. They drop it way down to a more purely neo-prog texture to move it forward. This is worked out into a killer neo-prog jam without really crossing very close to the metal end of the spectrum again for quite some time. Even when they do head that way, it’s still very prog oriented. There is a cool percussively based motif later with whispered / spoken lines of lyrics. This gives way to a textural section over which some sung vocals are placed rather insignificantly. They burst out from there into more powerful neo-prog. This resolves out later into an almost mainstream rock sound. Still, noise and other elements shift it beyond radio music.
Rapid Eyes Moment
Nearly the first two minutes of this track comes in the form of a mellow, fusion-like balladic motif. Even when it powers up from there it’s nothing near metallic, rather feeling more like Pink Floyd or Porcupine Tree. They drop it back from there to the balladic for the vocals and we’re off on a killer prog ride. At around the four and a half minute mark they crunch it out a bit. This has elements of Dream Theater here, but the vocals are more in a gentle progressive rock style. As it carries on Rush seems to be the order of the day. A strange keyboard section closes this out.
Amphibian Halo
Sound effects left over from the last piece begin this journey. Percussive elements are added to complete the opening segment. After a time a dark and rather twisted, stop and go keyboard motif is added. Layers are put atop this as they carry forward in a powerful, yet sedate and dark style. At a little before the minute and a half mark heavy crunch instrumentation joins in a plodding procession that reminds me a lot of Rush’s A Farewell to Kings album.  It drops way back for the vocals and then is gradually built back up, but only to a point. Instead it drops back to the keyboard dominated section and then makes its way back to the Rush-like territory.  Then it’s back to the verse section again. When it powers back up the Rush elements are definitely in play, but there are a lot of other sounds and textures in the arena, too. This is quite cool, if just a bit chaotic at times.
The Chameleon Defect
Starting with a ballad-like structure, this instrumental works out into an exceptionally melodic and pretty prog arrangement. In an unexpected change, this is shifted out to something along the lines of an operatic Cradle of Filth motif. Then the two elements we’ve heard thus far are melded together to create the next musical exploration. From there it’s back to COF territory. This then gives way to an odd prog section that combines more fusion-like sections with quick bursts of metallic jamming. Then it all shifts out after a time into a powerhouse prog jam that doesn’t last long, but takes it to a false ending. After some silence a new guitar based neo-prog jam takes over. This works through for a time and then ends the piece.  

Free of You
Dark and rather twisted, but quite sedate, musical motifs lead this off. Piano is added after a time and they carry forward in balladic fashion. The vocals eventually come in over the top of this as the cut continues to gradually build. The instrumental section that follows this is decidedly jazz-like. The next vocal movement reminds me in some ways of early Genesis – at least in terms of the vocal delivery. They work through in similar fashion for a while and then shift it out into more lushly arranged prog that reminds me a bit of Genesis and Marillion. Eventually this deposits us back into the song proper. A false ending gives way to a balladic motif that has a lot of Marillion and Porcupine Tree in its midst. This is extremely potent. It builds and builds and becomes just a tiny bit metallic after a while. It ends abruptly.
Papillon
Nearly the first two minutes of this are comprised of classical music with a spoken recitation over the top. Even when it changes from here, the music (still made with classical instrumentation) remains the same. We just get a verse of Fish-like vocals. After this verse, though, they pound out into a powerhouse crunch prog jam. This is developed into a Rush meets other prog elements structure over which more vocals in the style of Fish are delivered. At around the four and a half minute mark it shifts towards more pure metal for a moment and then a crescendo ends it – or does it? Near silence (if you turn the volume up you will hear music) holds it for a couple minutes. Then they create a piano ballad section to move us forward. This is literally just piano and voice. This is built up at first through the addition of more vocal layers. Later we get the addition of classical strings. At the end we get this sound bite, “What’s this album gonna be called? Is my name gonna be on the tape? Now, don’t you take that money away from me.”
 
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